London

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London

London is full of life and greener than many think.
  • Taming the jungle

    One of the most over-used clichés is that of the “urban jungle”.

    When applied to London, it gives the wrong impression, because it’s nothing to do with the amazing but dwindling wildlife, it applies instead to the savage human residents.

    The drab concrete greys and patchwork tarmac roads are a far cry from the soil and decaying leaf matter of a jungle floor. The housing estates and office blocks can’t compare with the venerable trees draped in vines with dense canopies filtering sun beams down through the steamy atmosphere trapped beneath their heavy leaves.

    We do share some of the same wildlife as the jungles imagined in our childhood brains. The Metropolitan Police have revealed they’ve seized elephant tusks, rhino horns and tiger “parts” illegally traded in the capital. This revelation is contained in a new report from the World Animal Protection charity which claims 44% of all wildlife crime is due to poaching.

    You’d think that sort of thing wouldn’t happen in the city; home to the mother of all parliaments. But even in the shadow of Big Ben, poachers were recently arrested fishing for eels by Westminster Bridge.

    European eel - Anguilla anguilla (c) redlist@iucn.org

    Eels are critically endangered as numbers of them have crashed 95%. These amazing creatures wriggle around the Thames and other freshwater rivers for between 6 to 20 years before migrating to the Sargasso Sea to breed. Their tiny offspring drift back on the Gulf Stream some 4,000 miles to their parent’s home-rivers to continue the cycle. Eels form a crucial part of the marine food chain, so when their population flatlines, so too do the numbers of a range of other fish and birds. This puts the seriousness of poaching eels into context.

    The thoughtless act of poaching one species can lose us dozens of others. This wildlife crime is stupid, but others show humanity at its worse. In one particularly violent incident, officers caught four youths kicking a swan to death in one of our central London parks. I wonder how they’d fare facing-off against the tank of West African dwarf crocodiles seized during raid on a home in Croydon. The crocs are said to be capable of tearing limbs off a human and apparently do not make good pets!

    The urban jungle can be defined by its savage residents, or we can reclaim it and turn it into a modern day Garden of Eden.

  • Startling starlings

    As spectacles go, the roof of a house seemingly lifting-up, fragmenting and taking flight is pretty special and it’s a memory that will stick with Londoner Richard Spink.

    That was the impression he was left with when thousands of starlings, which had settled on a neighbours’ house in Thamesmead, came and went in waves, their bodies filling the sky over his head.

    Richard said: “What I captured in the ten photos was a fraction of the number of birds. They covered both sides of the roof and were on our home too. Our garden backs onto the Thames, we have nature reserves and the Crossness Sewage Treatment Works nearby, so there’s plenty of greenspace. This is the first time I’ve ever seen this number coming and going. It was quite a sight.”

    On your marks

    Get set

    Steady

    Wow!

    London used to have huge flocks of starlings and the birds are still the number one most common garden bird recorded in the RSPB’s annual Big Garden Birdwatch for Greater London. Numbers of the speckled birds have dropped 84% since the Birdwatch began in 1979.

    The RSPB’s Tim Webb said “You can almost hear and feel the beat of wings as they lift into the air when you look at Richard’s amazing photos. Clouds of starlings form swirling patterns each evening as they gather to rest. It’s one of nature’s most mesmerizing sights and to witness this number in the Capital is an increasingly rare experience.”

    Starlings are just one of the many UK species declining in number. A lack of natural food and nesting spaces are amongst some of the more common problems. The RSPB’s Give Nature a Home campaign is encouraging everyone to support wildlife by sowing wildflowers, growing hedges or planting trees in suitable locations. Visit rspb.org.uk/homes for more information. 

  • Nature's dimming light

    It seems there are more bird species in the world than we had previously thought.

    report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature [IUCN] identifies 350 newly recognized bird species. Great news.

    The bad news is that 25% of those newly discovered species are on the road to extinction. Add to this another report concluding Insects, worms and other small animals that carry out vital functions for life on earth have declined by 45% on average over 35 years, and you could be left with a feeling of dread.

    Nature is in trouble.

    We've know that for a while now and have been looking at ways to resolve the problem. Or should I say problems. There is no single "thing" driving these declines. It's a cocktail of impacts but some will take issue with me and say that "mankind" is the single "thing" causing problems. That's another argument.

    I'm interested in solutions to the disappearing wildlife. Many of the answers lie in the provision of natural food stocks and places for nature to live. It's easily within our abilities to influence both of these. The thing is, we're also looking at ways to feed ourselves and house ourselves. In our rush to fix the human needs, we overlook nature's needs; with a few excellent exceptions.

    Stratford in east London seen from the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park @NoOrdinaryPark

    There are great examples of farmers going that extra mile for wildlife; of developers including greenspace and nesting sites; commercial shoots that conserve wild species and habitats alongside game birds and lots more river, marine, power and transport initiatives that should be applauded. As always, there are extremes, so there are an equal number of bad examples where nature is deliberately targeted as it's seen as bad for business.

    Love Parks week is a great time to get outdoors to discover nature and see or yourself some of the solutions being pioneered by council's and land managers to support and improve urban nature. Wild About Hampstead Heath, our own Heritage Lottery Funded partnership project offers a range of events and activities; London's many other parks have hundreds of events planned over the summer holidays too.

    The revolution required to turn the tide will take place in our homes and workplaces. The arguments for being an eco-warrior have never been so compelling. Whether justification for lagging your home comes from a desire to reduce carbon or the suggestion that it would be a form of protest against Vladimir Putin's stance on the Ukraine, your actions have positive environmental, economic and social impacts. The same is true of the food you buy. If you have any doubts, read our Square Meal report on the importance of a balanced food, farming and environmental approach.

    Nature is a public "right". It sustains and shapes us. We ignore and abuse it at our peril with plenty of lessons from history to show the consequences of our actions or inactions. It's such a pity we have short memories.